Nov. 8, 2017
The Gulls begin a season-long five-game homestand at Valley View Casino Center tonight against the Texas Stars (7 p.m., ESPN 1700-AM). The two clubs face off for the fourth time this season, and the final contest in San Diego this season. The most recent matchup took place on Oct. 27th in Cedar Park where the Stars prevailed 5-4 in a wild overtime affair that saw 86 combined penalty minutes between the two clubs.The two teams split a back-to-back set in San Diego on Oct. 13-14 with the Stars spoiling the Gulls’ home opener by a final of 3-1, with the Gulls rebounding a night later to trounce Texas 5-1.
The Gulls have earned points in four of the last five games (3-1-1-0), and the club continues a 10-game November schedule that sees the club play its first 19 games of the season against Pacific Division opponents, with the team earning an all-time record of 77-42-7-4 against the Pacific Division. The Gulls also have the most wins among Pacific Division clubs since its inception (87). San Diego has the highest win percentage among Western Conference clubs the past three seasons (87-47-8-4, .637%), and the Gulls 37-13-3-2 record since Dec. 26, 2016 equals the highest win percentage (.718%) and second-most points (79) among AHL clubs.
San Diego and Texas face off for the fourth of six meetings this season tonight, and the third and final contest at Valley View Casino Center. San Diego is 6-6-1-0 all-time against Texas, with a 3-4-0-0 record on home ice and a 3-2-1-0 at H-E-B Center.
Kevin Roy (3-5=8) and Andy Welinski (0-7=7) lead all active Gulls skaters in points against Texas. Goaltender Kevin Boyle is 3-1-1 with one shutout, a 1.81 GAA and .913 SV% in five career games vs. Texas, including his first career shutout on Dec. 29, 2016 (4-0 win). They will be countered on the other side by veteran center Travis Morin (2-9=11) and puck-moving defenseman Dillon Heatherington (3-4=7).
“They come hard. They play with a lot of speed and they have some pretty skilled guys up front. I think we have to limit their chances because they are a pretty offensive team,” said Gulls defenseman Steve Oleksy. “Not just the forwards but the defense get very active too so we have to really talk and be active in the d-zone. When you get involved in those back-and-forth games it’s really important to capitalize because that’s what they are looking for.”
An emphasis for the Gulls going into the contest is to play physical as they try to disrupt the Texas attack.
“You know they are going to come out ready to play. We are going to have to take it to them physically,” said Gulls forward Scott Sabourin. “They are a fast, skilled team and we are going to try to get physical with them early and hopefully put a couple in the back of the net.
Another aspect of the game to watch is the Gulls strong special teams play. The team enters tonight with the No. four ranked penalty kill in the AHL (14-of-60, 23.3%). The penalty kill has steadily been improving, with the Gulls having killed off 29 of their last 32 shorthanded opportunities (90.6%).
With the schedule providing the team an extended stay in front of their home fans, the team understands the time to get on a roll and put together wins is now.
“We have got to get that mentality going to make it hard for these teams to play in our home rink,” said Jeff Schultz. “We have got to pick it up here. We have been good for a couple of games and then we have kind of been down. So we have got to pick it up and get going on an upward swing here.”
Schultz knows to get started off on the right, the team will need to be ready for a tilt with Texas that should have a little extra spice to it.
“The last game in Austin, there was a little bit of hatred between the two teams. We expect a feisty game,” he added.
As always, feeding off the energy provided by the home fans at Valley View Casino Center will be key for Gulls players.
“It’s always nice to get a homestand and get our fans behind us,” added Sabourin.
After facing the Texas Stars, the Gulls will continue their homestand on Friday, Nov. 10 at (7 p.m., FOX 5 San Diego, Mighty 1090 AM) to face the Stockton Heat as part of Military Weekend. All fans in attendance will receive a free camouflage hat, and the club will wear special, custom camo jerseys.